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Lost in Translation: Turkish NGOs and the Uncertain Outcomes of EU Civil Society Policy

Markus Ketola

This paper delves into the processes of social and political change that underlie Turkey's pre-accessionnegotiations for EU membership, an area where Turkish NGOs have featured as one of many instruments toexact such change. These change processes - collectively referred to here as 'Europeanisation' - are uncertain intheir outcomes. The paper contends that the conceptual lens of sociological institutionalism offers useful insightsto understanding how the actions of local actors contribute to unexpected outcomes. Sociological institutionalismemphasises the informal rules and norms that influence decision-making. The institutional influence of the EU istherefore contingent on more than mere threats or conditionality; the recipient actors must also internalise theresponsibilities placed on them. Drawing on the case of EU funding for Turkish NGOs, the paper identifies a gapbetween the liberal democratic ideals that inform EU policy and the reality of how Turkish civil society operates inpractice. Moreover, this lack of congruence generates space for local actors to negotiate such gaps in locallymeaningful ways. It is here that the conceptual lens of sociological institutionalism offers a useful way ofunderstanding those dynamics of the accession process that may be best explained in sociocultural rather thanrational, procedural terms.

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